For Belgium-based photographer Elisabeth Ouni, a Polaroid image reveals something honest and true about its subject, which is precisely why Polaroids are her medium of choice.
"I just love the fact that it's instant and pure. You can't really mess with it. It displays a honest moment in time," she explained. "For fans, a Polaroid picture of their favorite artist just comes across more real than all the perfect, photoshopped, editorial pictures they usually see. Plus Polaroids require a certain closeness. I have to be very close with the artist, and that mostly results in great stories."
Ouni began snapping Polaroids of her favorite music artists and documenting the chase involved on her blog A Polaroid Story in 2009. The idea to start APS came up after she thought about how cool it would be to have a Polaroid of Pharrell Williams, who would be performing with N.E.R.D. at a Belgian music festival called Lokerse Feesten a few days later. A Live Nation worker at the festival had told her she would never be able to get close enough to Pharrell to photograph him. Much to her own amazement, Ouni succeeded.
Since 2009, Ouni has photographed the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Miguel, and Kid Cudi after intense networking, hours of waiting for artists to show up, and a whole lot of hustling and hard work in general. View some of her Polaroids in our Portfolio Review: Elisabeth Ouni Shares Stories of Her Polaroids of Hip-Hop Artists, and find out more about the photographer below.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? Where were you born and raised?
My name is Elisabeth Ouni. I'm from the land of waffles, Duvel beer, chocolate, Dries Van Noten, Martin Margiel, Raf Simons, and so much more, a.k.a Belgium. I was born in a small village called Roeselare. Left home at age 16 and settled in a small coast town called Ostend. Ostend is the city where Marvin Gaye lived in to kick off drugs and where he wrote "Sexual Healing."
You have great taste in music. How did your love for hip-hop begin?
My love for hip-hop started at an extremely early age. I never really connected with the music Belgians mostly listen too. I'm half Tunesian, so maybe that's an explanation. I was obsessed with Michael Jackson at a very young age, got introduced to Mariah Carey at age 10, fell in love with the Fugees in early high school; and my first boyfriend introduced me to the likes of Wu-Tang, Mos Def, etc. Later on at age 16, I left home and started to work in a bar in Ostend called Lafayette, where I was learning about soul, funk, and jazz and learned where the music that Kanye or Diddy sampled actually came from.
What sparked your interest in photography? Did you attend art school, or is it a hobby you picked up?
I worked as a model for quite a few years. I made a living from it; it paid my bills. Modeling taught me to look at things differently and to see the beauty in different things. Working as a model introduced me to a lot of photographers and camera men, who all left a tiny mark on me or taught me something that stayed with me throughout the years.
If I'm not mistaken, Kanye West is someone whose photo you've been pursuing for a few years now. Who is the one person—dead or alive—you want to capture on film?
Kanye West is definitely one of many artists I really want to feature on my blog. I tried during his first fashion show in Paris, in vain. But I learned that doing APS is a long journey, during which [I'll] meet people along the way who can help me in my next story. For certain types of artist like Kanye, it takes time. But I'm convinced it will happen. Others on my wish list are Jay-Z, Grace Jones, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Beyoncé or Destiny's Child, Tina Turner, but also people like Timbaland, Rick Rubin, Mariah Carey. There are too many really … Prince? But he hates pictures so I'm not sure that will ever happen. Oh, and definitely Diddy! Diddy was actually the first to write about me on his blog a few years back. And R. Kelly. I really, really want to feature R Kelly one day on the blog.
So far, who has been the most memorable music artist you've photographed?
I'm super proud to say that I have artists like Gil Scott-Heron and D'Angelo in my portrait portfolio. That's huge for me, especially because D'Angelo is the type of artist who is very hard to reach, and the fact that he personally agreed to have his picture taken was a big deal for me. Then again, my features with Kendrick Lamar are currently my favorites. He and his TDE crew are as real as it gets.